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Friday, September 07, 2012

Reply to Paul Faulkner's Comments

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I thank Paul Faulkner for his insightful comments. I am flattered that he found the time to go through my paper so carefully. Yet, I do not know exactly what I am supposed to do now because the paper is already published and his comments are in the style of a competent “referee” — I should have received it before the publication! Also, we are on a blog of social epistemology, discussing epistemic injustice, and we cannot pretend I have studied analytical philosophy at Oxford. Thus, in order to avoid a conversation that involves the biases, the identity prejudices and the epistemic injustices that we are here to debunk, I ask the reader (Paul included) to situate my intervention (and my paper) as coming from an Italian scholar living and working in France for whom English is her third professional language. Among the many epistemic injustices that we commit in academia, one of the strongest is linguistic injustice — a much debated subject at least in continental Europe[1] — and some of my arguments may appear less convincing than those coming from an Oxford educated philosopher because the style of writing and structuring of thoughts we have learned is radically different.
After this cautionary remark, let me try to defend some of my points and clarify some issues that were left underdeveloped in the article. Paul says that the two aims of my paper that I announce at the beginning — to broaden the spectrum of biases and prejudices of that sustain testimonial injustice beyond identity prejudices and to detail these mechanisms — do not fit one with the other, because Fricker’s testimonial injustice is defined in terms of identity prejudices. Thus, if I say that there are other prejudices and biases that may explain testimonial injustice, I am contradicting the very definition of testimonial injustice (that, in Fricker’s account, is based on identity prejudices). This objection seems a matter of terminology more than of substance. However, I meant that there are all sorts of prejudices that are not just identity prejudice, although they may sustain testimonial injustice; that is, an incorrect allocation of credibility to a speaker. In this sense, I am broadening Fricker’s definition of testimonial injustice beyond identity prejudices. Given that there is no copyright on philosophical expressions, let us say that I keep her productive idea of testimonial injustice while going beyond her definition that a necessary and sufficient condition for testimonial injustice is identity prejudice. I do not know so much about the identity of the supporters of Moon landing denial. My credibility deficit in this case is based on my perception of my own identity and the values that I am not willing to trade in order to buy a dubious theory.
Paul discusses my own definition of epistemic trust. Given that both of us have worked at length on this notion (my first paper in Episteme “Is Trust an Epistemological Notion?” was published in 2004), he criticizes my notion by referring to his own terminology. I do not want to go through the 2004 paper and my other works here. But I think it is clear I see trust as a default attitude that is typical of communicational contexts and that I have developed a sort of “pragmatic of trust” in which epistemic trust is actively constructed in communication (see also Sperber, Origgi et al. 2010).
Paul criticizes my definition of trust as an attitude that has two components: a default trustful attitude and a vigilant attitude. He writes: “If trust is an attitude, it cannot have as a more basic component the attitude of trust. Either default trust and vigilant trust are distinct attitudes of trust, and ‘epistemic trust’ is not properly described as an attitude of trust; or epistemic trust is an attitude of trust and ‘default trust’ and ‘vigilant trust’ are not properly described as attitudes of trust” (2012, 2).
Again, this objection seems purely terminological/stylistic. I can clearly say that an aesthetic experience has two components: an experience of appraisal and an experience of high cognitive engagement with the object of art. What is the problem with this? If the objection is that the definiens of the term cannot contain thedefiniendum, I invite Paul to concentrate not on the word “attitude” that appears in both sides of the definition, but on the term “epistemic trust” that is defined as a two/sided notion that contains a “vigilant” attitude and a “default trustful attitude”. Epistemic trust has two components — a vigilant attitude and a default trustful attitude — that makes it different from other forms of trust such as rational trust in social situations. I articulate these two aspects of epistemic trust because, in my view, a default trustful attitude is possible insofar as there exist cognitive cultural, social, emotional, moral, institutional mechanisms of epistemic vigilance (that I detail in my article) on which we rely in a sort of “default” and, very often, tacit way. In a sense, we are trustful about the existence of vigilant mechanisms and, in normal conditions, rarely check if we are justified in trusting them (as in the example of the Moon landing or in the “Smoking kills” example). Hence, here is the complex relation between the two components of epistemic trust: yes, we are trustful, but not towards the others; rather, towards the mechanisms of vigilance on which we rely to filter information. And sometimes we are wrong.
I do not understand Paul’s notion of epistemic trust as predictive. Trust, as a cognitive notion in rational choice theory, is always predictive because it is a bet on the future outcome of an interaction. But I do not accept what other people say because I predict that what they say is true just on the basis that they say it. I may trust people even if I do not bet on our future relation or on their cooperation. What Paul calls “predictive trust” reminds me more of trust as a performative act of commitment to other people’s words (just because they have said that!) in the line with the analysis of Richard Moran’s 2005 paper on Grice.[2] This makes the notion of epistemic trust much more difficult to pinpoint than the classical cognitive/predictive notion of trust.
As for the grounds for vigilance versus good grounds, Paul is right in saying that I present a series of heuristics of vigilance without prying apart those which are justified and those which are not. I think that the justification for each of these heuristics needs a complex empirical and normative analysis on how we use them, trust them and how they are institutionally and culturally organized. I did my job and analyzed in detail how we trust certain signs of reliability of academic publications in my 2010 article in Social Epistemology on“Epistemic Vigilance and Epistemic Responsibility in the Liquid World of Scientific Publications”. In the article, I explained that certain signs of reliability that are publicly used as mechanisms of vigilance on the quality of information are simply invalid (such as the D.O.I. attribution number). I also explored other domains, such as the Web, in a more recent article (Origgi 2012). Sometimes the way in which vigilance is socially organized and maintained makes difficult for the single individual to be aware of some flaws in the mechanisms of vigilance.
In sum, I think that our divergences are often a matter of style. I see epistemic trust as a “phenomenon” that I am trying to approach with all the possible intellectual means I have, at the risk of being sometimes metaphorical in my way of describing it. But what I would like my readers to concede is that I am grasping a phenomenon out there. Paul sees “epistemic trust” as a normative notion that has to be defined to be operationalized in philosophical arguments. That is where our styles diverge. I think that philosophy talks about something real, out there, that we can experience in our everyday lives. That is why social epistemology is a naturalized project for me in continuity not only with cognitive sciences, but also, and even more, with social sciences such as anthropology, sociology and political science. Epistemic trust is sustained by our whole cultural and institutional world. And sometimes we need to get our hands dirty and see how our culture is organized and our institutions are legitimately or illegitimately maintained.
Contact details:
Faulkner, Paul. 2012. Trust and the assessment of credibility. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 1 (8): 1-6.
Origgi, Gloria. 2004. Is Trust an Epistemological Notion? Episteme 1 (1): 1-11.
Origgi, Gloria. 2008. Trust, Authority and Epistemic Responsibility. Theoria 23/1 (61) 35-44.
Origgi, Gloria. 2008. Qu’est-ce que la confiance? VRIN, Paris.
Origgi, Gloria. 2012. Epistemic Trust. In SAGE Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences, Byron Kaldis, general editor. New York: Sage Publications.
Origgi, Gloria. 2012. Designing Wisdom Through the Web: Reputation and the Passion of Ranking. InCollective Wisdom: Principles and Mechanisms, Hélène Landemore and Jon Elster, editors. 38-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sperber, D., F. Clément, C. Heintz, O. Mascaro, H. Mercier, G. Origgi, and D. Wilson. 2010. Epistemic vigilance. Mind and Language, 25th anniversary special issue, 25 (4): 359–93.
[1] Cf. P. van Parijs. 2011. Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World. Oxford University Press.
[2] Cf. R. Moran. 2005. Getting Told and Being Believed. Philosophical Imprints 5 (5):